Pre-Easter lull and weather hit cattle market volume

Despite scant supply, prices held up nicely

Aspring snowstorm and holiday shutdowns ahead of the Easter long weekend limited activity at Manitoba’s cattle auction yards during the week ended April 1, but prices — for what moved — were solid.

Snow and strong winds led to highway closures across the Prairies on March 29 to 30.

“Producers didn’t want to take their cattle out into that, so our numbers (were down),” said Rick Wright of Heartland Order Buying. He estimated that volumes were down by about a third or more from what they could have been if the weather was better.

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Values were the strongest by Wednesday’s sale in Virden, that was the last auction in the province ahead of Good Friday.

“Guys who had started buying Monday and Tuesday, (Wednesday) was the last shopping day before Easter,” said Wright, adding “the market was extremely aggressive.”

The best prices were for lighter-weight animals that can go out to grass, while heavier cattle over 800 pounds were under some pressure because of high grain prices, according to Wright.

However, he added that increased demand from eastern feedlots was providing some support for the heavier cattle as the backlog of fed cattle in the east is finally being worked through.

“When they weren’t buying those big cattle like they normally would, that meant everything had to go west,” said Wright.

While lighter cattle have shown some strength, concerns over the dry conditions across the Prairies were lingering in the background.

“It’s in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Wright, adding “the biggest concern I keep hearing over and over is ‘water.’”

While a timely rain would help pastures green up, dugouts are very low and the lack of moisture has producers very nervous in the southwest corner of the province.

“In general, the market is higher than we thought it would be considering the high prices of feed and the potential drought out there,” said Wright.

On the butcher side of the market, “the cows picked up some steam this week,” said Wright. He noted that demand from the south was supportive for prices.

Looking ahead, numbers should see an increase in the first week back after Easter as any cattle that didn’t move in March will be coming to market. However, after that, volumes should slow down as attention turns to spring field work.

“The guys looking for lightweight replacement cattle are reaching out fairly aggressively now, because they know the numbers will deplete,” said Wright.

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Phil Franz-Warkentin - MarketsFarm

Phil Franz-Warkentin writes for MarketsFarm specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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